While Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia have a long tradition with their rival football squads, the schools’ hockey teams will play for the first time this weekend in the first annual University Hockey Classic.
SFU are the defending champions of the recently formed B.C. Intercollegiate Hockey League while the ‘Birds play at the more-established Canadian Interuniversity Sport level.
A total of 14 BCHL alumni will take part in the weekend series. A pair of them was on hand at Thursday’s ceremonial faceoff and media event at Burnaby’s Bill Copeland Arena.
“I hope this is going to be the start of a great tradition because we’re obviously the two main schools in the Lower Mainland and I hope we can be competitive with each other,” said UBC alternate captain and leading scorer Max Grassi, who finished his BCHL career in 2009 with the Penticton Vees. “I hope it will grow university hockey in the Lower Mainland and people will appreciate it more and hopefully we can get some more attendance out to both schools.
“Every year, it should be something both teams are excited for and hopefully the city gets excited for.”
SFU captain Chris Hoe, a former Salmon Arm SilverBack, knows his team will be an underdog but has seen the Clan program grow substantially in just a few years and will provide a test for the Thunderbirds. He says hockey fans will be in for a good show.
“I know SFU in the last couple of years has really changed where they get guys from and how they recruit guys,” said Hoe. “If someone hasn’t seen an SFU game, they’d be very surprised at the calibre.”
SFU coach Mark Coletta recognizes UBC plays in a league that has more proven players but believes his group will open the eyes of local hockey fans.
“Obviously, they’re in a higher level than we are in our league, so we prepare ourselves for the best competition we’re going to face all year,” said Coletta. “I think the caliber is pretty close; I know our guys are up for the game and hopefully we can show to the local fans that we’re right there.”
It’s logical to make the series into an annual tradition says UBC bench boss Milan Dragicevic.
“I think it’s great; a lot of the players from the respective teams know each other,” he said. “I know our players are looking forward to it and for us it makes a lot of sense. Our closest rival is Calgary and that’s a plane ride away and so it makes sense to establish a rival nice and close.”
Friday’s game will be at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre at UBC and Saturday’s finale will be at Bill Copeland Arena in Burnaby. Both games start at 7 p.m. and tickets are available at the door or online at www.sfuhockeystore.com.